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EGYPT ORDERS RELEASE OF OPPOSITION LEADER

by Jean-Marc Mojon Egyptian opposition leader Ayman Nur was expected to be freed on Sunday, after six weeks in jail that strained Cairo's relations with Washington and turned the politician into a symbol of the movement for democratic reform. Egypt's attorney general, Maher Abdel Wahed, had ordered the leader of the Ghad (Tomorrow) party's release on bail, but Nur initially refused to pay 10 000 Egyptian pounds, arguing his detention was politically-motivated. "At first he refused to pay anything, because he is a political detainee. But we advised to pay the bail and he has accepted," Nur's lawyer Amir Salem told reporters. "He has been transferred from the Tura prison to the central police station downtown. We expect him to be freed in the coming hours," he said. Ayman Nur was detained on January 29 on charges of "falsifying official documents". "The release was ordered because there is no longer any reason for his preventive detention," Abdel Wahed said, adding that a similar order was issued for five of his supporters detained for the same reasons. "The preventive detention had been ordered in order to allow for an investigation to be carried out in the utmost secrecy and ensure that no evidence was concealed," the attorney general said. Nur's 45-day preventive detention period was due to expire in two days but the official MENA news agency suggested the release was moved forward after a parliamentary Euro-Mediterranean delegation currently in Cairo planned to mention the jailed politician's case in a statement. "The Euro-Mediterranean parliamentary assembly's committee on policy, security and human rights accepted to remove a clause demanding the Egyptian authorities reconsider the imprisonment of Ayman Nur in its draft statement on the progress of human rights and democracy in Mediterranean countries," the agency said. Nur was arrested by security services just days after he met with visiting former American secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who heads a US body to promote democracy. His arrest coincided with a wave of political changes in the Middle East, manifested in Egypt by growing calls for reform and by opposition to President Hosni Mubarak. Nur's Al-Ghad party was created in October 2004, only the third time the Egyptian state allowed the creation of a new political party. The wealthy 40-year-old lawyer is now seen by some as the symbol of the young guard and reform movement in Egypt, and by others as an opportunist with no genuine commitment to democratic values. His imprisonment took on a new dimension when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice chided Egypt over the move and raised the issue during a visit to Washington by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit. Although Nur is a vocal critic of Israel and was a leading figure in a campaign to boycott US products, his jailing came amid a context of growing US pressure for political reform in the region. In late February, Mubarak called for a constitutional change allowing for a competitive presidential election, in what was seen as a move to meet internal and US demands for democratic reforms. Nur, married to television presenter Gamila Ismail, has a charity handing out donations to impoverished Egyptians in the Bab al-Sharia neighourhood of Cairo he represents in parliament. His weekly newspaper, also called Al-Ghad, hit the news stands for the first time on Wednesday.





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